Virident vCache vs. FlashCache

Ease of basic installation. The setup process was simply a matter of installing two RPMs and running a couple of commands to enable vCache on the PCIe flash card (a Virident FlashMAX II) and set up the cache device with the command-line utilities supplied with one of the RPMs. Moreover, the vCache software is built in to the Virident driver, so there is no additional module to install. FlashCache, on the other hand, requires building a separate kernel module in addition to whatever flash memory driver you’ve already had to install, and then further configuration requires modification to assorted sysctls. I would also argue that the vCache documentation is superior. Winner: vCache.

Ease of post-setup modification / advanced installation. Many of the FlashCache device parameters can be easily modified by echoing the desired value to the appropriate sysctl setting; with vCache, there is a command-line binary which can modify many of the same parameters, but doing so requires a cache flush, detach, and reattach. Winner: FlashCache.

Operational Flexibility: Both solutions share many features here; both of them allow whitelisting and blacklisting of PIDs or simply running in a “cache everything” mode. Both of them have support for not caching sequential IO, adjusting the dirty page threshold, flushing the cache on demand, or having a time-based cache flushing mechanism, but some of these features operate differently with vCache than with FlashCache. For example, when doing a manual cache flush with vCache, this is a blocking operation. With FlashCache, echoing “1″ to the do_sync sysctl of the cache device triggers a cache flush, but it happens in the background, and while countdown messages are written to syslog as the operation proceeds, the device never reports that it’s actually finished. I think both kinds of flushing are useful in different situations, and I’d like to see a non-blocking background flush in vCache, but if I had to choose one or the other, I’ll take blocking and modal over fire-and-forget any day. FlashCache does have the nice ability to switch between FIFO and LRU for its flushing algorithm; vCache does not. This is something that could prove useful in certain situations. Winner: FlashCache.

Operational Monitoring: Both solutions offer plenty of statistics; the main difference is that FlashCache stats can be pulled from /proc but vCache stats have to be retrieved by running the vgc-vcache-monitor command. Personally, I prefer “cat /proc/something” but I’m not sure that’s sufficient to award this category to FlashCache. Winner: None.

Time-based Flushing: This wouldn’t seem like it should be a separate category, but because the behavior seems to be so different between the two cache solutions, I’m listing it here. The vCache manual indicates that “flush period” specifies the time after which dirty blocks will be written to the backing store, whereas FlashCache has a setting called “fallow_delay”, defined in the documentation as the time period before “idle” dirty blocks are cleaned from the cache device. It is not entirely clear whether or not these mechanisms operate in the same fashion, but based on the documentation, it appears that they do not. I find the vCache implementation more useful than the one present in FlashCache. Winner: vCache.

Although nobody likes a tie, if you add up the scores, usability is a 2-2-1 draw between vCache and FlashCache. There are things that I really liked better with FlashCache, and there are other things that I thought vCache did a much better job with. If I absolutely must pick a winner in terms of usability, then I’d give a slight edge to FlashCache due to configuration flexibility, but if the GA release of vCache added some of FlashCache’s additional configuration options and exposed statistics via /proc, I’d vote in the other direction.

Disclosure: The research and testing conducted for this post were sponsored by Virident.

First, some background information. All tests were conducted on Percona’s Cisco UCS C250test machine, and both the vCache and FlashCache tests used the same 2.2TB Virident FlashMAX II as the cache storage device. EXT4 is the filesystem, and CentOS 6.4 the operating system, although the pre-release modules I received from Virident required the use of the CentOS 6.2 kernel, 2.6.32-220, so that was the kernel in use for all of the benchmarks on both systems. The benchmark tool used was sysbench 0.5 and the version of MySQL used was Percona Server 5.5.30-rel30.1-465. Each test was allowed to run for 7200 seconds, and the first 3600 seconds were discarded as warmup time; the remaining 3600 seconds were averaged into 10-second intervals. All tests were conducted with approximately 78GiB of data (32 tables, 10M rows each) and a 4GiB buffer pool. The cache devices were flushed to disk immediately prior to and immediately following each test run.

With that out of the way, let’s look at some numbers.

vCache vs. vCache – MySQL parameter testing

The first test was designed to look solely at vCache performance under some different sets of MySQL configuration parameters. For example, given that the front-end device is a very fast PCIe SSD, would it make more sense to configure MySQL as if it were using SSD storage or to just use an optimized HDD storage configuration? After creating a vCache device with the default configuration, I started with a baseline HDD configuration for MySQL (configuration A, listed at the bottom of this post) and then tried three additional sets of experiments. First, the baseline configuration plus:

innodb_read_io_threads = 16
innodb_write_io_threads = 16

We call this configuration B. The next one contained four SSD-specific optimizations based partially on some earlier work that I’d done with this Virident card (configuration C):

innodb_io_capacity = 30000
innodb_adaptive_flushing_method = keep_average
innodb_max_dirty_pages_pct = 60

And then finally, a fourth test (configuration D) which combined the parameter changes from tests B and C. The graph below shows the sysbench throughput (tps) for these four configurations:
As we can see, all of the configuration options produce numbers that, in the absence of outliers, are roughly identical, but it’s configuration C (shown in the graph as the blue line – SSD config) which shows the most consistent performance. The others all have assorted performance drops scattered throughout the graph. We see the exact same pattern when looking at transaction latency; the baseline numbers are roughly identical for all four configurations, but configuration C avoids the spikes and produces a very constant and predictable result.

vCache vs. FlashCache – the basics

Once I’d determined that configuration C appeared to produce the most optimal results, I moved on to reviewing FlashCache performance versus that of vCache, and I also included a “no cache” test run as well using the base HDD MySQL configuration for purposes of comparison. Given the apparent differences in time-based flushing in vCache and FlashCache, both cache devices were set up so that time-based flushing was disabled. Also, both devices were set up such that all IO would be cached (i.e., no special treatment of sequential writes) and with a 50% dirty page threshold. Again, for comparison purposes, I also include the numbers from the vCache test where the time-based flushing is enabled.
As we’d expect, the HDD-only solution barely registered on the graph. With a buffer pool that’s much smaller than the working set, the no-cache approach is fairly crippled and ineffectual. FlashCache does substantially better, coming in at an average of around 600 tps, but vCache is about 3x better. The interesting item here is that vCache with time-based flushing enabled actually produces better and more consistent performance than vCache without time-based flushing, but even at its worst, the vCache test without time-based flushing still outperforms FlashCache by over 2x, on average.

Looking just at sysbench reads, vCache with time-based flushing consistently hit about 27000 per second, whereas without time-based flushing it averaged about 12500. FlashCache came in around 7500 or so. Sysbench writes came in just under 8000 for vCache + time-based flushing, around 6000 for vCache without time-based flushing, and somewhere around 2500 for FlashCache.

We can take a look at some vmstat data to see what’s actually happening on the system during all these various tests. Clockwise from the top left in the next graph, we have “no cache”, “FlashCache”, “vCache with no time-based flushing”, and “vCache with time-based flushing.” As the images demonstrate, the no-cache system is being crushed by IO wait. FlashCache and vCache both show improvements, but it’s not until we get to vCache with the time-based flushing that we see some nice, predictable, constant performance.

So why is it the case that vCache with time-based flushing appears to outperform all the rest? My hypothesis here is that time-based flushing allows the backing store to be written to at a more constant and, potentially, submaximal, rate compared to dirty-page-threshold flushing, which kicks in at a given level and then attempts to flush as quickly as possible to bring the dirty pages back within acceptable bounds. This is, however, only a hypothesis.

vCache vs. FlashCache – dirty page threshold

Finally, we examine the impact of a couple of different dirty-page ratios on device performance, since this is the only parameter which can be reliably varied between the two in the same way. The following graph shows sysbench OLTP performance for FlashCache vs. vCache with a 10% dirty threshold versus the same metrics at a 50% dirty threshold. Time-based flushing has been disabled. In this case, both systems produce better performance when the dirty-page threshold is set to 50%, but once again, vCache at 10% outperforms FlashCache at 10%.


The one interesting item here is that vCache actually appears to get *better* over time; I’m not entirely sure why that’s the case or at what point the performance is going to level off since these tests were all run for 2 hours anyway, but I think the overall results still speak for themselves, and even with a vCache volume where the dirty ratio is only 10%, such as might be the case where a deployment has a massive data set size in relation to both the working set and the cache device size, the numbers are encouraging.


Overall, the I think the graphs speak for themselves. When the working set outstrips the available buffer pool memory but still fits into the cache device, vCache shines. Compared to a deployment with no SSD cache whatsoever, FlashCache still does quite well, massively outperforming the HDD-only setup, but it doesn’t even really come close to the numbers obtained with vCache. There may be ways to adjust the FlashCache configuration to produce better or more consistent results, or results that are more inline with the numbers put up by vCache, but when we consider that overall usability was one of the evaluation points and combine that with the fact that the best vCache performance results were obtained with the default vCache configuration, I think vCache can be declared the clear winner.

Base MySQL & Benchmark Configuration

All benchmarks were conducted with the following:

sysbench ­­--num­-threads=32 ­­--test=tests/db/oltp.lua ­­--oltp_tables_count=32 \
--oltp­-table­-size=10000000 ­­--rand­-init=on ­­--report­-interval=1 ­­--rand­-type=pareto \
--forced­-shutdown=1 ­­--max­-time=7200 ­­--max­-requests=0 ­­--percentile=95 ­­\
--mysql­-user=root --mysql­-socket=/tmp/mysql.sock ­­--mysql­-table­-engine=innodb ­­\
--oltp­-read­-only=off run

The base MySQL configuration (configuration A) appears below:

#####fixed innodb options
innodb_file_format = barracuda
innodb_buffer_pool_size = 4G
innodb_file_per_table = true
innodb_data_file_path = ibdata1:100M
innodb_flush_method = O_DIRECT
innodb_log_buffer_size = 128M
innodb_flush_log_at_trx_commit = 1
innodb_log_file_size = 1G
innodb_log_files_in_group = 2
innodb_purge_threads = 1
innodb_fast_shutdown = 1
#not innodb options (fixed)
back_log = 50
wait_timeout = 120
max_connections = 5000
max_connect_errors = 10
table_open_cache = 10240
max_allowed_packet = 16M
binlog_cache_size = 16M
max_heap_table_size = 64M
sort_buffer_size = 4M
join_buffer_size = 4M
thread_cache_size = 1000
query_cache_size = 0
query_cache_type = 0
ft_min_word_len = 4
thread_stack = 192K
tmp_table_size = 64M
server­id = 101
key_buffer_size = 8M
read_buffer_size = 1M
read_rnd_buffer_size = 4M
bulk_insert_buffer_size = 8M
myisam_sort_buffer_size = 8M
myisam_max_sort_file_size = 10G
myisam_repair_threads = 1



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